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A Guide to international Shipping for direct to consumer brands

December 6, 2023
4 min read

The goal of every eCommerce business is to grow, allowing more and more people to benefit from the products you sell. And the best way to do this is by broadening your market to an ever-expanding international audience. However, it shouldn’t be ignored that the extra admin and logistical problems that come with global shipping causes stress. At Bezos, we have years of experience shipping eCommerce products all around the world, so here our fulfilment experts gathered some of their best tips for any business looking to scale up on an international level.

How to start shipping internationally?

Identify the products and countries

Different countries have different rules. These can even change within one country depending on what you sell. Therefore, it’s vital you first identify what category of products you’re trying to distribute and ensure it is legal to do so in the locations you’ve identified. These include whether your products are considered dangerous goods for transit (like lithium batteries or flammable materials). For example, if you sell toothpaste, you may be unable to post it to Algeria, where products containing fluoride are banned from entering the country, while a company that sells yarn would not be able to ship to Italy

You should take a look at international regulations, obtain any special permissions if you need them, and ensure you understand the documentation you need to provide along with your parcel. Usually, the official customs website of your chosen countries will list everything in a clear manner, and this nifty UPS tool can be useful too. It’s also important to do some market research and find out if your products are in demand in the locations you’ve targeted — you don’t want to spend all of your energy trying to sell an item that your chosen audience has no interest in. 

Check customs and incurring costs

Shipping internationally doesn’t have to be expensive, but it is important to educate yourself about the extra costs that it involves. Import and export fees are often significant, as well as any tariffs, duties, customs and taxes. You can then decide whether you want to include these in your shipping prices or let your buyers pay for some when they arrive. The latter is not a recommended option, though, as this may spell a bad customer experience since most of them won’t be accustomed to doing so.

How long does international shipping take?

Although international shipping usually takes longer than domestic postage, the timing depends on various factors. If your parcel’s destination is nearby with not many customs checks and regulations, it might take a couple of days, while shipping a parcel further afield may require a few weeks. It also depends on whether you opt for air freight (which is usually quicker) or another alternative, such as sea or land, and the type of shipping you’ve chosen — express delivery, if available, will arrive quicker than regular.

It’s essential to ensure timelines with your courier, as you’d want to relay a correct delivery time to your customers and be able to announce any delays as soon as possible. For this reason, it is recommended to go for a tracked shipping option. Picking a fulfilment service like Bezos, with multiple warehouses across the globe, is the best way to keep shipping time down, as orders will be delivered through domestic routes — your inventory will already be at the country of destination.

How to reduce international shipping costs?

Shipping costs vary widely between countries, couriers, types of products, sizes and weights. As a rule of thumb, the quicker the delivery, the more expensive it is. However, there are some financial benefits to faster shipping, as your package spends less time in transit, making it less likely to be damaged and thus need replacing. That’s why it is possible to reduce international shipping costs by a strategy that considers all factors and mixes and matches different shipping couriers and methods.

Postal carriers compared with specialist couriers, for example, are generally less expensive, but they’re also very straightforward. It’d be rare for postal carriers to offer super express delivery, and they may not be able to handle certain items or shapes. Another thing to note is your parcel’s weight and size — try to keep it as light as possible, from your packing and marketing materials to the package itself. Also, ensure to use a box that matches your item’s shape in the closest manner possible. Do your research regarding a flat-rate — one standardised cost regardless of weight — as this option may save you a lot of money in the long-term, especially if you deal with heavier items.

As mentioned before, picking a fulfilment service with centres scattered across the world is a fantastic, cost-effective way of reducing both delivery times and costs. You’ll be shipping your products across borders in bulk, saving you money on individual long-haul shipments and customs calculations.

How to ship from the UK to the EU?

Now that Britain has left the EU, it is considered a third-party country. This means the benefits that shipments originating from the UK once enjoyed are no longer relevant.

You will need to treat your EU destination as any other country around the world, so research its particular rules, regulations and tariffs, what you need to declare, and any restrictions. These can be different from country to country.

As to documentation, you will need a CN22 form for parcels under £270 and a CN23 for anything over. In order to fill these out, it’s vital that you hold an EORI number and provide a country of origin, description of goods (including weight, quantities and value), and HS Trade Tariff code. Again, doing this in bulk can save you much time and money, so picking a fulfilment company with EU-based centres can be an excellent solution for any eCommerce business looking to regularly ship to the EU.

How to pack boxes for international shipping?

As previously mentioned, packing boxes correctly can save you money on shipping. However, this isn’t the only benefit of proper packaging. This ensures your products are safe, lowers their chances of getting damaged in transit, and reduces delays. They’re even a viable way to market yourself and give your customer a personalised touch.

  • Choose the right type of box. You want a sturdy but light box. This is not the place to cut corners, as a quality box will protect your products while still reducing shipping costs due to its weight. Corrugated boxes are a favourite for this reason. However, if your merchandise is especially heavy, you may need to consider a heftier alternative like a shipping box.
  • Pick the right size. When it comes to packing, size definitely matters. Go for the smallest box that can contain your shipment.
  • Avoid empty spaces. Your items should be cushioned with void filler to dodge damage caused by hard jolts during transport. 
  • Seal it properly. Ensure your package is fastened in a safe manner by using extra tape to seal the sides of the box. 
  • Label it carefully. The risk of wrong labelling grows with international shipping, as it can cause your parcel to be returned to you. Make sure all the needed documentation is affixed firmly to the box, that the sender and receiver addresses and names are clear, and that any warning labels (‘heavy’, ‘fragile’) are adhered and visible.

We hope you’re now ready to embark on your international scaling up journey. If you want to learn more about how Bezos can help you with that, contact us for some expert logistics knowledge, tailored to facilitate your growth.

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